Learn about and understand the items, manufacturers, designers and periods as well as the specialist terms used in describing antiques and collectables. Either click one of the letters below to list the items beginning with that letter, or click on a category on the left side of the screen to list the items under that category.


Alvar Aalto’s Savoy vase in black glass.

Founded in 1881 in the Finnish town of the same name, littala specialised on tableware and cookware.

Iittala took Finnish glass design upmarket in the 1930s, with Aino Aalto's glasses and Alvar Aalto’s iconic modernist Savoy vase designed, in 1936.

Between the 1930s and 1950s the company drew on the talents of leading Finnish designers with the aim of targeting the international design-conscious and giftware market.

At the 1951 and 1953 Milan Triennale exhibitions, two of IItala's designers, Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpeneva were awarded the Grand Prix and this confirmed littala alongside Sweden’s Orrefors as leaders in the field of sophisticated glass design.

However, littala continued to produce its more popular designs over several decades, and this makes valuation of these items more complicated.

As an example, Alvar Aalto’s Savoy vase has remained in constant production since 1937, and second-hand pieces are invariably cheaper than new ones.

Similarly, Sarpaneva’s Orkidea (Orchid) vase, designed in 1953, has been reproduced over several decades whereas his Lancetti, designed in 1952, was made for only five years.

The result is that the value of the Savoy vase is relatively low compared to the Orkidea vase.

View further examples of Iittala

Imari and Arita Porcelain

One of the most popular and collected of the Japanese porcelains is Imari. Imari is in fact a European name for export porcelain produced in the town of Arita in the Hizen province of Japan. It was shipped through the nearby port of Imari from the second half of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century. Pre-export period Imari is called Shoki-Imari.

There are two distinct styles of Arita or Imari porcelain.

Firstly there is the rare and highly sought after Kakiemon porcelain. It is sparsely decorated predominantly in coral red on a very fine white glaze. Highlight colours include yellow, green and aubergine Kakiemon wares are of a consistently high standard and command very high prices

In contrast, the more commonly found Imari in the west is called brocaded Imari or Kinrande Imari, and is usually richly decorated with flowers, foliage and figures. These pieces have an overall floral decoration reminiscent of a rich silk textile, and typical colours are underglaze cobalt blue and iron red, which is highlighted with colours such as gold, green, aubergine and yellow. There is a great variation in quality, ranging from quite crude though decorative wares to very finely painted wares.

Items exported to the West included garnitures of vases, plates, chargers, figures as well as utilitarian wares. Due to its popularity and success, Imari was widely imitated both in China and the West. English factories who produced Imari or "Japan" patterns as they were sometimes known included, Bow, Derby, Minton, Spode, Worcester and Mason's. European factories included Meissen, Chantilly and Delft.


A technique where pigment is applied to a ceramic surface so that it stands out from the glazed surface in slight relief.

Imperial Yellow

Imperial yellow, also called "Chinese Yellow" and "Royal Yellow" is an auspicious colour in Chinese culture.

It was the colour of Imperial China and the symbolic colour of of the five legendary emperors of ancient China. The colour was used to decorate royal palaces and used in the clothing of the emperors.


Important is a word used in the antique trade to indicate an object should be ranked above other similar objects, and is therefore more valuable.

The object could be considered important because it is by a famous designer or maker, has been shown at a major exhibition, is of exquisite workmanship, is rare or is a "one-off", was made for an important patron, and so on.

Even further up the pecking order are objects that are described in catalogue descriptions as highly important or extraordinarily important.


A record of a name, date or inscription, or a decoration scratched into a surface, usually of a glass or ceramic item with a blunt instrument to make a coarse indentation. Compare with engraving where the surface is cut with a sharp instrument such as a metal needle or rotating tool to achieve a fine indentation.


A Murano cockerel with gold lleaf inclusions.

In glass manufacturing, inclusions are material that is trapped within the layers of glass when it fuses. Materials used for inclusions include copper, gold, silver, platinum and air bubbles.


Decorative patterns inserted into the main body of a piece of furniture, generally in wood of contrasting colour and grain, though brass, ivory, ebony, shell and sometimes horn have been used. Inlay may consist of a panel of well figured timber inset into a cabinet door front, geometric patterns, or complex and stylized designs of flowers, swags of foliage, fruits and other motifs. As a general rule, in pieces where the carcase is constructed in the solid, the inlay is relatively simple such as stringing, cross banding and herringbone banding. Where more elaborate and decorative work was required veneer was used. Inlay has been fashionable from at least the latter half of the 17th century, when a variety of elaborate forms were developed


A term used to define a method of decoration most common in glassmaking and jewellery which involves engraving, carving or moulding an image into the background, leaving an impression, and leaving the top surface of the item flat, the opposite to relief carving, and also know as counter-relief.


When used in relation to wooden items, intarsia is the Italian term for inlaying, where the background timber is cut away and and a selection of timbers of different colours and grains are inserted to form a picture or pattern.

Ironstone China

A Masons ironstone Imari palette plate, English 19th century, painted with vases of flowers.

Credit for the invention of ironstone china is generally accorded to Charles Mason in 1813. Charles Mason was one of the two sons of Miles Mason who founded the Mason works in 1802, and ran the business with his brother George Mason.

Ironstone was a heavy hard earthenware which was slightly translucent, its strength supposedly coming from a very small quantity of iron slag added to the mixture. The additional strength enabled the company to make larger objects that were not susceptible to breakage.

The company manufactured dinner wares, toilet sets, tureens, jugs and so on, and the most popular patterns were blue and white, floral and Oriental Imari style colours.

The trade name "Patent Ironstone China" was registered by the company in 1813, but the patent was only valid for 14 years and was not renewed, enabling other potteries to use the word "ironstone" in describing their wares.

Mason wares are generally well marked with "Mason's Patent Ironstone China" .


Most commonly used to describe the finish in glass and ceramics, an iridescent finish is one that subtly changes colour when moved and the light strikes it at a different angle. In glass, objects by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the United States, and Loetz in Bohemia often have irridescencent finish. Examples of ceramics with an irridescent finish are the Wedgwood Fairyland lustre range, the Doulton Flambe range, and the output of the Hungarian manufacturer Zsolnay.


Isfahan is ancient capital of Persia, located about 450 km south of the Tehran, the present capital of Iran.

The city was the site of the royal carpet manufactory during the Safavid era, and noted for its rich silk rugs that often incorporated gold and silver thread. The Safavid dynasty lasted from 1502 to the early 1700s, when the country was invaded by Afghans, at which time the craft of weaving became stagnant.

The craft was revived in the 1920s, with the region again producing fine quality rugs, and one of the most popular designs incorporating a central medallion with floral borders.


Ivory is a hard white material that comes from the tusks of elephants, mammoth, walrus and boar, or from the teeth of hippopotamus and whales. The ivory from the African elephant is the most prized source of ivory. Although the mammoth is extinct, tusks are still being unearthed in Russia and offered for sale.

Ivory has been used since the earliest times as a material for sculpture of small items, both in Europe and the east, principally China and Japan.

In Asia ivory has been carved for netsuke, seals, okimono, card cases, fan supports, animals and other figures and even as carved tusks.

In the last 200 years in Europe ivory has been used to carve figures, for elaborate tankards, snuff boxes, cane handles, embroidery and sewing accessories, in jewellery and as inlay on furniture. Its more practical uses include being used for billiard balls, buttons, and a veneers on the top of piano keys.

The use and trade of elephant ivory have become controversial because they have contributed to Due to the decline in elephant populations because of the trade in ivory, the Asian elephant was placed on Appendix One of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in 1975, and in January 1990, the African elephant was similarly listed. Under Appendix One, international trade in Asian or African elephant ivory between member countries is forbidden. Unlike trade in elephant tusks, trade in mammoth tusks is legal.

Since the invention of plastics, there have been many attempts to create an artificial ivory


An Iznik hand painted pottery charger, signed.

Iznik (or Isnik) is a town in Turkeywhere pottery has been made from the 13th to the 19th century.

The pottery is typically painted with cobalt blue and green floral and geometric decorations on a white ground.

Some Europpean potteries has produced designed inspired by and named after the Turkish originals.